Employers’ guide to COVID -19
On 5 March 2020 the first case of Coronavirus (COVID-19) was confirmed in South Africa. As of 21 March 2020 South Africa has confirmed 240 cases of people infected with the virus. This number is expected to rise even further.
Protecting your workforce
The Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993(“the OHSA”) places an obligation on every employer to provide and maintain, as far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risk to the health of his employees.
The OHSA also places an obligation on employees to take reasonable care of their own health and safety and that of others who may be affected by acts or omissions.
Within the context of COVID-19 there is a clear obligation on the employer to protect employees by taking steps that will mitigate risk of contamination.
On 23 March 2020 the President of the Republic of South Africa announced a national lock down from midnight Thursday, 26 March 2020 until midnight 16 April 2020.
The exemptions to the lock down are:
- Health providers – both in the private and public sector;
- Emergency personnel which includes police officers, traffic officers, military personnel;
- Services involving the production, distribution of food and basic goods;
- Essential bank services;
- Services involving the maintenance of power, water and telecommunications;
- Laboratory services;
- Services involving the provision of medical and hygiene products.
Citizens will not be allowed to leave their homes except for medical attention, to buy food and other supplies, and to collect their social grants.
Dealing with the lock down
The Basic Conditions of Employment Act 75 of 1997 (“the BCEA”) and the provisions pertaining to sick leave will apply in instances where an employee has contracted COVID-19. The employee must obtain a medical certificate which can be sent to the employer via email or mobile communication in line with limited to no physical contact protocols. Once an employee’s sick leave is exhausted, the employer’s sick leave policy will apply and the employer could award unpaid leave, annual leave or the employer can allow the employee to utilise the next sick leave cycle’s entitlement.
Due to Government imposing a lock down it might constitute a force majeure which might render performance under the contract of employment impossible and the employer may implement a no-work, no-pay principle. However, when an employer is in a position to pay their employees, they should attempt to do so. In the event that an employer is not in a position to pay their employees, the employee may qualify for Unemployment Insurance Fund benefits.
In the case of suspected exposure contact the coronavirus hotline in South Africa: 0800 02 9999